Repowering Brighton Secondary College

 By Matthew James Richardson

I went to my first AYCC summit in September 2014 while I was a Year 11 at Brighton Secondary, Adelaide. I went because I cared about climate change and wanted to learn more, because my chem teacher encouraged me, and because, worst case scenario, two days off school! During the summit I enjoyed the workshops and the food, made friends and learned a lot. What struck me was the sense of purpose in the room; with a large group of like-minded young people working towards a common goal. It was particularly exciting to see each school plan projects to take back and make a change. However, I wondered if we could do more. This led me to ask an important question: What can I, as a young adult, do to make a big difference?

Leaving the summit, my idea hit me and I decided I wanted to make Brighton Australia’s first 100% renewable powered school using solar PV. I nicknamed the project ‘Brighton solar school’ and got to work.

My first step was to do some research. I studied how solar PV and batteries worked, how much it cost and how much the school could save. With this knowledge I booked a meeting with the principle and gave her my pitch. She was very interested in the idea and recommended that I write a proposal so that we could formally submit a proposal to the education department (DECD). Over the next week I put together a report and sent it to my principle. She then passed it on the department headquarters. Within two days, DECD called back and we arranged a meeting. This was a hugely exciting moment in my life as my idea went from being a dream to a legitimate plan that could actually happen.

Over the next four months I worked with my principle, going to meetings in the across Adelaide to meet with solar companies, consultancy firms, SA power networks and DECD. From each of these experiences I gained great mentors and we put together a more detailed proposal. This made doing the project especially worthwhile as I had unique opportunities to meet passionate sustainability professionals and change the way I saw the world.

Working on the project over a longer period of time, it was important to stay motivated and be proud of small wins along the way. For me, this meant building momentum in the school’s student community by working with student leadership and share what was happening!  Connecting with the community was incredibly powerful. It was empowering to use my passion to make people feel like they are part of something greater.

The Brighton Solar Schools project culminated in a feasibility study, which gives us a plan to gradually build up Brighton’s rooftop solar to 90-100% of the school’s energy needs. This would involve multiple builds over the coming years. I am really proud that I was able to take an idea and work on it with many brilliant people until it became a reality. Repowering my school made me the person I am and has been one of the most satisfying journeys of my life. My vision is now for students across Australia to build on my experience and create the world’s first renewable powered education system. We have the technology, we have the expertise and we have the money. All we need is more students willing to think big and have a go!